Sawmill fire threatens to bankrupt church charity - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Sawmill fire threatens to bankrupt Talbot County rehab clinic

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TALBOT COUNTY, GA (WTVM) -

A charity run by a Phenix City church is in trouble following a devastating fire. Flames destroyed a crucial structure on City Gate Ministry's site in Talbot County and now a problem with their insurance coverage is threatening to put them under.   

The Gatehouse in Junction City is a rehab clinic for men who wish to leave their troubled pasts behind and adopt a new life with strong foundations and spiritual growth. 

Charred wood and ashes are still smoldering following Monday's fire at the Gate House sawmill. A small spark ignited the machine's fuel and created a fire so intense, there was nothing left for volunteers to save. 

Income generated from the sawmill is enough to sustain the operation, and the loss of that machinery could put an end to the charity's mission: helping men get back on their feet after trouble with money, drugs, or the law.  

"I lost my job, and I heard this would be a really good place to straighten myself out and get closer to God," said Gatehouse resident Ryan Lewthwaite.

"If it hadn't been for Pastor Paul helping me out and the program helping me out, I would still be sitting in prison," said Duke Betts. 

City Gate has coverage through Alpha insurance under their Alabama address, but because the fire occurred in Georgia, a legal technicality may prevent them from receiving any assistance. Replacing the destroyed equipment will cost about $40,000, which is more than the small charity can afford. 

"We've operated a sawmill for the past two years. We took in donations before that.  But we started with a sawmill.  One of our residents- he was homeless and living in a tent on his father's land, but he had been in the sawmill business all of his life.   He had a small mill and he brought here and taught us how to run it," said Pastor Paul Meacham.

 That man is one of the clinic's many success stories.  After graduating from the one-year program at Gatehouse, he was reunited with his family and now has a job in Denver, Colorado working in the lumber industry. 

Right now the church is in a state of limbo, trying to take on small paying jobs in the community until they get an answer from the insurance company. 

City Gate has been running this operation in Talbot County since 2008 and houses between 10 and 35 residents at a time for a year-long program.  They started out feeding homeless under Columbus bridges and the idea for the charity began when they realized some of the men just needed more help. 

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